‘Youth v. Gov’

When 21 young activists impacted by climate change sue Uncle Sam | Port Townsend Film Festival

James Sloan jsloan@ptleader.com
Posted 9/24/21

With Hurricane Ida, record-high heatwaves in the Western U.S., wildfires ravaging the West Coast, and much more in 2021 alone, it’s no surprise that climate change and the effects of global …

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‘Youth v. Gov’

When 21 young activists impacted by climate change sue Uncle Sam | Port Townsend Film Festival

Teens and young adults involved with the case came from across the U.S., such as 21-year-old Aji Piper (pictured center row in the center of the photo), who grew up in nearby Port Orchard.
Teens and young adults involved with the case came from across the U.S., such as 21-year-old Aji Piper (pictured center row in the center of the photo), who grew up in nearby Port Orchard.
Photo by Robin Loznak
Posted

With Hurricane Ida, record-high heatwaves in the Western U.S., wildfires ravaging the West Coast, and much more in 2021 alone, it’s no surprise that climate change and the effects of global warming are at the forefront of conversations for many Americans.

While most people will acknowledge the legitimacy and seriousness of the situation, the next discussion centers on who is to blame.

Twenty-one teens and young adults from across the country believe that blame should be assigned to the United States government, the very government assigned to protect and serve their young citizens.

Each and every one of the young plaintiffs have been impacted by climate change, whether from wildfires, hurricanes, floods, droughts, or numerous other disasters that have ravaged their homes and communities.

SUING UNCLE SAM

On Aug. 12, 2015, Juliana vs. United States was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, asserting that the U.S. government violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights of life, liberty, and property, through affirmative actions that caused climate change.

Leaping at the opportunity to document the salient lawsuit, director and filmmaker Christi Cooper started to chronicle the civil complaint, the young plaintiffs involved, and the history of the U.S. government’s actions — or inactions — that led to the climate crisis that Americans see today.

“In 2015 when they filed this case, I knew the legal team, I knew a lot of these kids and had developed this relationship over those years with them, and knew that this was a story that was worth following,” Cooper said.

With a doctorate in neurobiology and master of science degree in microbiology, Cooper wasn’t always a filmmaker, but grew into the role after wanting to find a medium to display her creative side.

“I decided that I wanted to move out of academia and move more into the communication side of science,” Cooper said. “I really felt like there was a great need for increased public understanding of science.”

As “Youth v. Gov” delves into the twists and turns of the lawsuit, Cooper additionally delves into the deep history of the United State’s involvement in accelerating climate change, whether through subsidizing fossil-fuel industries, failing to mitigate carbon emissions, or other decisions.

“I think what this film does differently is to shine a light on the government’s responsibility in those systemic issues … and those who are most disproportionately impacted by climate change,” Cooper said.

“If our government isn’t there to protect us from harm, then who is?”

FACES OF CLIMATE CHANGE

Rather than following the traditional blueprint of climate change films that focused on the environmental effects, Cooper chose to prioritize the impact of climate change on America’s youth.

“The kids’ stories in this film were really the most important piece to me,” Cooper said. “They’re really the heart of the film, and it’s what I hope people most-connect with.”

Cooper focused her lens on the 21 young plaintiffs fighting for their rights, and continued to document and interview the teens and young adults as the lawsuit and documentary stretched for around five years.

Although, in “Youth v. Gov.,” the lawsuit proceeds to a frustrating and somewhat anti-climatic end for the documentary, the legal team behind the case today are actively working to bring the suit to trial. The 21 young plaintiffs are still awaiting their day in court.

IMPACTS WORLDWIDE

The impact of the lawsuit has spread around the world as more and more youth activists are holding their governments liable for failing to protect them from climate change.

“I think this case is already having a big influence, this case is already being taught in law schools across the country,” Cooper said. “This case has inspired at least 18 cases around the globe.”

When Cooper wrapped up the documentary in late 2020, many of the kids involved in the lawsuit and film were able to finally watch the documentary, and see how much they’d aged, and how far they had come.

“A lot of them commented on, ‘Oh my God, I’m so little.’ I think them seeing themselves on screen and knowing that this was a multi-year journey that they have been on, I think they’re all proud of the film,” Cooper said.

With a new president in the White House, and a new administration to negotiate with, Cooper and many others see an additional opportunity to bring the case back, and let the youth activists greatly impacted from climate change speak their minds.

“I think the Biden administration has an enormous opportunity to shift the game…pretty much everyone is experiencing the impacts of climate change. It’s in our face, it’s no longer some threat in the future.

“We’re all really experiencing it in a deep way,” Cooper said. “I think we, as citizens, have to keep up the pressure … we have to stay noisy around climate change to really keep this a priority, so that this administration actually makes those changes.”

“Youth v. Gov” has been presented with numerous awards, including Wildscreen’s Panda Award for Best Campaign Film, Best Environmental Film from Backcountry Film Festival, Best Youth Film from Colorado Environmental Film Festival, Best Made in Montana from the International Wildlife Film Festival, among other accolades.

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